Friday, 16 October 2015

TALES OF HALLOWEEN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Mixed wheelbarrow full o'pumpkins, half of them are plump. ripe and juicy, the other half remaingreen and not fully grown - Toronto After Dark Film Festival - TADFF2015: ***

Amply endowed milk maid assailed by psycho.

Tales of Halloween (2015)
Dir. David Parker, Darren Lynn Bousman, Adam Gierasch, Axelle Carolyn,
Lucky McKee, Paul Solet, John Skipp, Andrew Kasch,
Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin, Neil Marshall
Starring: Barry Bostwick, Pat Healy, Booboo Stewart, Clare Kramer, Alex Essoe, Lin Shaye, John Landis, Caroline Williams, John Savage, Greg Grunberg, Barbara Crampton, Adrienne Barbeau, Grace Phipps, Kristina Klebe, John Savage, Keir Gilchrist, Sam Witwer, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Graham Skipper

Review By Greg Klymkiw

An omnibus film (a feature-length anthology) is only as good as its wraparound story (the tale that holds it all together). Tales of Halloween doesn't have one.

The classic example of this structural necessity to the omnibus is the immortal 1945 shocker Dead of Night by the UK's legendary Ealing Studios. It introduces us to an architect who joins an assemblage of guests for some tea and crumpies in an old house in need of a structural makeover. He notes that all the guests mysteriously made appearances in his nightmare the previous evening. At their urging, he recounts the guests' respective roles from his trip to the Land of Nod.

One of the stories is the famous Cavalcanti-directed segment involving Michael Redgrave as a ventriloquist having a nervous breakdown. Each of the recounted stories (save for one odd-duck in the Ealing comedy tradition) are absolutely chilling, but all the more so because of the wraparound story which, is cleverly integrated into the omnibus structure and as such turns out be the best of the lot (save for the bunyip puppet master and his creepy wooden dummy tale which, is utter perfection).

Joan Collins & Psycho Santa in
1972's "Tales from the Crypt"
Herbert Lom & deadly mechanical
alter-ego in 1972's "Asylum"
Michael Redgrave and dummy
in 1945's "Dead of Night"

In the 70s, the Amicus company began adapting E.C. comics as omnibus features. All these had wraparound stories. Tales From The Crypt (1972) by Freddie Francis was endowed with a simple, but effective wrap-tale involving the great Ralph Richardson as a mysterious crypt keeper. Roy Ward Baker's Asylum (also 1972) had a wrap, but it turns out to be so perfect that I'd argue it rivals Dead of Night in this respect.

In it, Robert Powell (Ken Russel's Mahler), plays a young psychiatrist applying for a position at an asylum. As part of the job interview process, he meets a number of inmates (including the stellar likes of Charlotte Rampling, Herbert Lom, etc.) and listens to their grotesque stories in order to provide his analyses. As the clever conceit of this wraparound continues, both it and the other tales get creepier and creepier. By the end, we've enjoyed an omnibus picture which really kicks some serious ass.

That Tales of Halloween does not bother with a traditional wraparound story for the ten Halloween-themed short chillers is, perhaps, the film's biggest mistake. Leading us through the proceedings is an All Hallows Eve radio D.J. (delightfully played by Adrienne Barbeau, in a reprise of her role in John Carpenter's The Fog). It's wonderful to have her in the picture, but narratively, she just doesn't seem all that integral to the whole and it certainly doesn't feel like there's anything here resembling a solid narrative attached to her character.

Being bereft of a proper wraparound story might be the most egregious offence, but Tales of Halloween has plenty of other problems wafting through it - notably, a number of the stories that are simply not up to snuff.

A Babe is stalked in "Tales of Halloween".

Basically, we get what the title, Tales of Halloween, tells us we'll get - E.C. Comics-like tales of madness, retribution, murder, myth and magic. Each tale has a different team of filmmakers, though in the feature's favour, the picture has an overall stylistic unity which keeps it from being a total patchwork quilt. This is due mainly to the work of creative producer Axelle Carolyn, horror-journalist-turned-horror-filmmaker, who was the driving force behind the overall concept and final product.

At the end of the witching hour, though, some tales are better than others. This is to be expected. Even the virtually perfect grandaddy of horror omnibus features, Dead of Night, has one dud. Tales of Halloween, has quite a few.

Let's concern ourselves with what works.

Some people need to wash up before they eat.

"Sweet Tooth", written and directed by Dave Parker is a solid opener dealing with a little boy teased by his baby sitter and her boyfriend about a demon that kills kids who don't share their candy. The monster not only eats what little candy might remain, but disembowels his greedy victim to eat the candy not yet putrified by the digestion process. Needles to say, this urban myth is for real, and it comes a calling. Lots of genuine tension, shocks, a great monster, a couple of babes (one of them a yummy mommy), copious amounts of blood and viscera, plus a delightful E.C. Comics-style button-snapper at the end.

"The Night Billy Raised Hell", directed with aplomb by Darren Lynn Bousman and superbly written by Clint Sears, is a dazzlingly joyous bit of mordant wit and mega-blood-letting. On All Hallows Eve, a little boy is shamed into pelting the house of a creepy, old recluse with an egg. The recipient of his aim is, uh, Satan (Barry Bostwick, "Brad" in Rocky Horror Picture Show) and our plucky little hero, under the expert tutelage of the Dark Lord himself, spends a glorious night committing mass murder and other heinous activities. This short film had me soaring like no other in this entire anthology. Too bad Bousman and Sears opted for a disappointingly safe (and predictable) twist at the end. Happily, it didn't detract from the overall sheer orgasmic pleasure I received whilst watching it and, just thinking about the high points of this segment, I get giddy.

"Grimm Grinning Ghost", written and directed by the feature's primary creative force Axelle Carolyn scared the crap out of me. Uh, kinda literally. We observe a young babe on her Halloween evening walk home as someone, or something is on her tail. The creep and suspense factors mount ever-so insidiously, eventually offering solace until… well, just wait and watch, making sure you're wearing adult diapers. Conjuring feelings similar to the walk-through-the-park sequence in Val Lewton's production of Jacques Tourneur's The Cat People is no mean feat. Ms. Carolyn pulls it off admirably.

Lucky McKee's "Ding Dong" sees the remarkably versatile mega-babe actress Pollyanna McIntosh as the "better half" of a childless couple who cruelly abuses her milquetoast husband and, one fateful Halloween, she experiences a completely psychotic nervous breakdown as neighbourhood children are visiting in record numbers to get their fair share of candy. We're either in a living hell or the real thing as McKee's grim tale dives into unexpected viscera.

The Descent's Neil Marshall serves up "Bad Seed" wherein a tough babe cop (Kristina Klebe) faces a most formidable adversary - a pumpkin which goes on a killing spree. This is one great short film - original, scary, funny and edge-of-the-seat suspenseful. Marshall tosses in one astounding visual frisson after another until the picture builds to one of the most gorgeous and horrifying images I've had the pleasure to experience in quite some time. It's dazzling!!!

Poor thing has escaped from Hell's petting zoo.

And there you have it - five terrific horror shorts amongst a total of ten. The cellar-dwelling remainders are simply just that. They're the dross we must sludge through to get to the gold, but it's an especially tough sludge to get to the good stuff. (One segment involving a large-breasted Dorothy-Gale-like milk-maid fighting a Jason-Voorhees-like killer has some amusement value, but wears out its welcome pretty quickly.)

Then there is the matter of the key missing element. Other than a few tiny, tenuous strands supposedly linking the anthology together (the best being Adrienne Barbeau), I'm still scratching my head over the choice not to include a solid wraparound story. Doing so would have probably inspired better work amongst all the short films, especially the ones infecting the whole film with the debilitating added burden of being well below the bar set by the films that work.

This has got "franchise" written all over it, but hopefully Tales 2 will endeavour to include itself amongst the very best. This, of course, means it will require a wraparound story as solid as all the others.


Tales of Halloween is an Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada picture which had its Toronto launch at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2015.